Local groups receive grant for work with voter education

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, June 11, 2024

On June 6, representatives from Common Cause N.C. along with Common Cause’s National President Virginia Kase Solomón awarded funds to a local organization and two institutions from a grant from its Common Cause Education Fund for their work with voter education in the community.

Solomón, who is from Washington, D.C., was in Salisbury for the special occasion to help in the distribution of the funds and make the announcements.

She said that Common Cause is a 1.5 million member organization with an active member base in North Carolina, which has “been fighting for voting rights and access to the ballot for 51 years.”

Others associated with Common Cause N.C. who were present for the events were Executive Director Bob Phillips, Associate Director Sailor Jones, Campaign Manager Gino Nuzzolillo, Communications Associate Aniya Whitfield and HBCU Program Managers Jazmyne Abney and Vashti Hinton-Smith.

The first presentation was made at Mission House, which received funds after an application had been made for an Election Engagement Grant with Common Cause N.C. and a check for $25,000 was presented to Emily Perry and Pastor Anthony Smith.

Jones said the people at Mission House has “done such incredible work to reach out to the community and do voter engagement work” and they were proud to give them those funds.

In receiving the grant, Smith said they would now be able to help provide resources for them to mobilize.

Through their relationships with young people in the community, which he said they have been blessed to have, they could get their help doing phone banking, canvassing, plus they do advanced rallies.

“This grant will assist us greatly in executing a lot of our voter engagement plans for this upcoming election season,” Smith said.

During the presentation, Solomón told the pair that “hopefully this $25,000 will make a difference in helping to get out the vote and making sure that everybody has access to the ballot as well. Thank you all so very much. We are excited for the incredible work that is being done.” Perry responded by saying she didn’t think “words could describe how helpful this is to get the word out and encourage people to vote, encourage them to make sure they are registered and to get involved literally on the local level as well as on the national and state levels” as it does affect their everyday lives.

Solomón said that the Mission House is an extraordinary organization deserving to receive the grant, “so we are just really excited to be here and to be able to support this incredible organization.”

The second presentation was made at Ketner Hall on the Catawba College campus where leaders from both colleges gathered and a check for $20,000 was presented by Solomón to the group.

She told them that the Common Cause Education Fund was “honored and delighted to be able to present this check for $20,000 to both of your amazing institutions so that we can help make sure that young voters have a great experience, a first time experience and hopefully one that leads to a lifelong experience.”

When asked what these funds meant to each and how it would help with what they are doing on their campuses, Dr. Orlando Lewis, vice president for student affairs at Livingstone College, said for them it would “enable our students to engage in social responsibility and civic engagement to enhance our student voter registration and to be more engaged with the voting process.”

Dr. David Nelson, president of Catawba College, said that the college has a long history of preparing students to be responsible citizens, and therefore, “these kinds of resources help us to fulfill that part of our mission to ensure that students graduate here, that they go and do the work they are called to do, that they make the world more like the place we all want to live and that they do so being fully engaged in civic life.”

Terri Stevenson, who serves as the associate vice president of student affairs at Livingstone, said that she and Dr. Da’Tarvia Parrish, who serves as the director for the honors program at Livingstone College and is associate professor of English, have been working together, on the student side and academic faculty side, to make sure the students understand how important it is to vote as well as the issues that concern them.

Stevenson said they have a “three-prong approach to voting on the campus” which is first, voter registration and this happens during their freshman orientation as each student is registered to vote at that time. Second, it’s voter education as they host a candidate forum on the campus and thirdly is the actual voter participation, which, she said “is what we have done for each and every election and I can say that confidently.”

Parrish said they are “committed to creating a culture of voting, and we want to promote lifelong learning in our academic setting.”

She concluded by sharing how proud and happy they are to be a part of the Rowan-Salisbury community and that they want to have this “impact on a local level, on a regional level, on a national level that will indeed impact our mosaic world.”

Catawba College’s executive vice president and provost Monica Cowart, said that values are a big part of their curriculum and they have four pillars, which are character, service, scholarship and culture, and that this “initiative is going to enable us to really lean into lifelong learning and to civic responsibility” so that their students could live out these pillars not just during their school years but throughout their lifetime.

Meg Dees, who serves as vice president of development at Catawba, expressed appreciation for the funds from a resource standpoint “because this will allow us to do these things we really want to do. Sometimes, you can have great plans and great ways you want to engage with your students, but you need the resources to be able to make things happen.”

Speaking from the state level of Common Cause, Phillips said they are all trying to get the vote out in a nonpartisan way and help get people educated and engaged and therefore thought “who better to really do that than the folks on the ground in communities across North Carolina and that’s why we’re thrilled to be able to come to Salisbury and provide some funding” in the community.

Solomón said they had an anonymous donor who gave the money so they could re-grant it and therefore it wasn’t just Common Cause but it’s also “the people who have supported giving those resources so that we can be able to share them with others” and being able to give, she said, brings them joy.